Today, I’m trying to be cheerful, but I’m feeling miserable and ill-tempered. It’s a sunny day outside but I had very little sleep last night caused by one problem or another. So what should I do, pretend I’m rejoicing in the Lord, or be honest? Or let’s choose another scenario. What if it’s a cold, dark, rainy day and my car has a flat on the highway and my umbrella is broken and my bank account is empty and my arthritis is killing me and—? You fill in the blanks.
There’s an emphasis these days among Christians, at least, to be filled with thanksgiving and to rejoice in every circumstance. And that’s good and right. The Bible’s commands here are clear. “Be joyful always;…give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thess. 5:16,18). In the world beyond the church there are exhortations to be positive.
We all appreciate cheerful, positive, affirming people. No one likes to be around a grouch very long. But do we ever feel uncomfortable when someone tells us they have cancer but are rejoicing in the Lord? Something seems off here. It’s unnatural.
Of course, the whole Christian faith is unnatural. That’s what makes God’s transforming grace so astounding. The Holy Spirit indwelling a born again Christian is in the business of transforming grouchy, negative, critical temperaments. There is no doubt that the commands to rejoice always, to always be thankful, to have faith as a grain of mustard seed, and many others, define the transformation goals of the Holy Spirit. “We who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, [from glory to glory, KJV] which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit”(2 Cor. 3:18).
However, these spiritual goals, challenges—if you will—are a little like Mount Everest. Something to be conquered, but very high. To live every day, every minute submissive to the Spirit, fulfilling the will of God is what we should aim for. We want to become Christ-like. But it is from glory to glory. There are incremental stages along the way.
Now, I realize that some people are much more optimistic than others. Some never worry. And some Christians have progressed in their sanctification to such an extent that they are sincere in expressing such unnatural sentiments. And we do need to pray for God to transform our minds. “As a man thinks so is he.”
But I wonder if God is more pleased when we are honest about what we feel than when we grit our teeth and try to kid ourselves into being joyful. I think most of us relate more to the honesty of David or Jeremiah. “Give me relief from my distress…O Lord, consider my sighing…My soul is in anguish…How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart?”(Psalm 4:1;5:1;6:3;13:2).
So, let’s press on the upward way but when we feel miserable pour out our hearts to our heavenly Father. He loves to hear our heartfelt cries for help in trouble, gloom or discouragement almost as much as He enjoys our joyful celebration.